Friday, April 08, 2011

A reader solicits advice

A reader recently contacted me and posed the following conundrum, to which I replied that I had no clear or easy answer. The reader has given me permission, however, to post the message (with details pulled to retain anonymity) to see if other readers may have helpful suggestions. (I do request that you keep suggestions serious and courteous, if you do wish to offer any advice.) Also, I think it may be edifying for a wider audience of readers to be aware of just what sorts of challenges are faced by those trying to live out their lives faithfully as Catholics in the "trenches" these days:

I appreciate your insights on your blog, may God bless you for your work! I have a peculiar situation I am facing, and I wondered if you might have any advice. I apologize in advance for the length of this e-mail.

I have been attending a local approved Tridentine Mass for several months and have developed a great love for the Extra-Ordinary Form of the Mass. After some months of attending the TLM, my former parish got a new pastor, who is a great young priest, very solid and orthodox, and a good man.

I was hoping that my husband and kids could perhaps begin attending the TLM. My husband would not have objected, I don't think, but for the fact of a new development that seriously complicates the matter: the new priest is my husband's brother! This complicates the matter a bit, as I'm sure you will agree.

My brother's family members are also all parishioners at this Novus Ordo church, and they all seem quite excited about the opportunity to spiritually rebuild the parish, which has been adrift in a modernist mentality for some time.

So I figured I would help out as best I could. I volunteered to teach RCIA. I started leading a Rosary group before the Masses. I have even helped plan a major parish mission.

The problem I am facing is that the liturgy is really a source of discontentment for me. Week after week, it is just dismal, especially after being at the TLM for several months. The state of the liturgy, instead of being worshipful and uplifting, is consistently depressing. It has been several years now, and we have seen almost no change to the liturgies.

I want to stress that my husband's brother is a fine priest. Intellectually he sees the importance of renewing the Novus Ordo liturgy by conforming it more to the reverent and dignified way it is celebrated in the TLM. In fact, he has even expressed his willingness to learn the TLM -- eventually -- and to have one Tridentine Mass here at least on a weekly basis on Sundays. I do believe he is sincere in this desire.

So I have approached him with several ideas. I mentioned that I had contacted some priests who were willing to train him in the old liturgy. I offered to start a Latin Mass Society, an altar guild, to help raise financial support that he might need, and even to help by teaching a class to help acquaint parishioners with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

His response was to put me off by saying he didn't have time right now, or that there were too many parishioners who would be upset by an introduction of the older form of the liturgy.

This response was very hard for me to accept. I understand that priests are busy in all sorts of ways administering a parish, capital campaigns, parish schools, etc. I also appreciate that he is doing much to improve the quality of spiritual life in the parish, like beginning Perpetual Adoration for several days per week.

The problem I find is that any time anyone (not just I) proposes a change to the liturgy in a traditional direction -- such as the introduction of the Agnus Dei in Latin, or Boy only altar servers, he says that he just doesn't have time right now, or that those in the pews couldn't deal with such changes right now.

Of course, much of what he says is true. When such changes were proposed in the past, many of the parishioners rebelled and threatened to stop attending Masses anymore. Given these circumstances, not to mention the fact that his bishop is not especially interested in liturgical renewal and often gets frustrated with my brother-in-law for trying to change things for the better, I understand how my brother-in-law may find himself in a tough spot.

However, so am I. As a mother, I have young children of an age impressionable enough to be influenced by parishioner attitudes of irreverence and indifferentism at Mass, but not yet old enough to understand the historical and cultural reasons for the current state of affairs in the Church, let alone a proper grasp of the theology underlying the Mass. So I am deeply concerned for their need to attend a proper and reverent and holy Mass, whether it is a Novus Ordo Mass or TLM.

Given that it will apparently take many years before anyone can "fix" the liturgy at my brother-in-law's parish, and given the fact that we have been members there almost four years now, I am seriously contemplating asking my husband to transfer with me to the TLM parish. I realize how problematic this will inevitably be, given all the family ties we have to my husband's family here at this parish. Yet I feel that I have done all I can to help with the "renewal" of our parish here, all without much effect, I'm sad to say. I feel I'm at a point now where we need to make a decision based on the spiritual welfare of our children.

I don’t know whether my husband will understand or agree with my reasoning, particularly now since his brother is our parish priest. I am not even sure he will be open to my reasoning, since he has only attended the TLM a few times with me and is not particularly interested in details of theology and liturgy. As you know, those without much exposure to the TLM tend to dismiss those who love it and who protest liturgical abuses in the Novus Ordo as "overly reactionary." My husband could very well share that sort of reaction.

My brother-in-law, the priest, feels that the way to change the liturgy is by converting the parishioners. If we do that, he says, the liturgy will "take care of itself." I'm inclined to be a bit less sanguine about "converting" the parish, particularly after years of trying to help "fix" it, apparently to little avail. At this point I'm inclined to think that if the liturgy could be repaired at all, even incrementally, by being brought more into conformity with liturgical tradition, that this would help to nourish and convert the parishioners. Isn't that what Pope Benedict suggested about the cross-fertilizing influence of the TLM on the Novus Ordo?

My question to you is: Which approach do you think is right? If you think I am mistaken in any of my judgments, please tell me how and why I am wrong. If you think I am right, on the other hand, then what sort of insights would you suggest I present to my brother-in-law to convince him of my position?

In Christ,


KK said...

Given your desire for orthodoxy, it seems to me you won't go wrong by submitting yourself, wholeheartedly, to your husband's leadership in this matter. Kathy Dowell

KK said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

First: Count your blessings, many have it much worse, consider the priest who verbally abuses the parishioners or worse.

Second: Communication with your husband, remember he is your best friend.

Third: Patients and prayer, some things will be corrected through divine intervention.

Fourth: Unfortunately some things you can’t change so make the best out of what you have.

Joe @ Defend Us In Battle said...

I can speak to this somewhat in that we face a similar situation.

I was raised in the Archdiocese of Detroit. I went through RCIA (Confirmation & 1st Eucharist) in the spring of 2006 and then attended Ave Maria law school.

My first Masses as a full Catholic were very traditional and reverent. I attended the TLM in Detroit at least monthly.

We then moved to Alaska, to a place where not only are there not TLM's but the Mass and Parishes are... well... spiritual deserts. Now my point isn't "woe is me..." for I really feel that God called us here, but that we can share in a union of "struggle and sacrifice."

Our first daughter had the privilege of going back to Detroit with us and being baptized in the EF in Detroit, but our next child we wont be able to do that... so we are already struggling to see how to proceed.

I think the best thing you can do is to continue to pray and realize that God doesnt make mistakes. He allows us to be in situations where we can both serve the most good and receive the most good. I think it is just up to us to understand what our role is, and to take advantages of sacrifices for Grace.

One last thing, let me provide a link for a very orthodox priest that is at a Novus Ordo parish but celebrates the EF at a parish in the city. He gave a parish mission talk on a closely related subject:

KK said...

Joe, I really appreciate what you said about God not making mistakes & how that realization can give us new perspective on our situation. Thank you for sharing this wisdom. Kathy

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

"your husband's leadership"

Being indifferent to the whole question of liturgy, it doesn't seem to me that he is offering any.

As for the brother-in-law, an anecdote: A coworker of mine has a brother who is a priest. The priest is an assistant of some sort to the bishop, and resides with him at his residence, which would be considered a mansion by most observers. When the coworker's daughter recently gave birth to her first child, the brother priest pulled out all the stops: the child was baptised in the cathedral by the bishop, the diocese picked up the tab for a catered family & friends party after the christening, and bishop and brothers attended the next NHL home hockey game.

No problem, really. Let them celebrate life in the most comfy way possible. But it does illustrate a somewhat ugly point: priests are totally subservient to the will of their bishop. Priests who behave appropriately are rewarded handsomely. Priests who do not are banished to the outer darkness, such as the priest in my diocese who had the cheek to learn and say the TLM against the bishop's belief that "there is not a demand for this." He has been assigned to preside as best he can over five far-flung rural parishes on the outer rim of the diocese.

That's right -- five. He does not get to many NHL games.

I would expect that this is the kind of situation your brother-in-law faces: a situation in which his spirituality is stunted by the very ones whose responsibility is to bring it to fruition. He will either "submit to the bishop's leadership," as most do, or he too will be banished to the outer darkness -- much like the TLM in the decades following the aggiornamento.

George said...

Trying to "fix" the Novus Ordo is a lost cause. This liturgy was patched together amidst political machinations of those who wished to undermine "Baroque Catholicism" and those who wished to preserve some semblance of tradition. Trying to "fix" it would be like trying to "fix" Protestantism. It cannot be done. Certainly not by adding yet another patch here or there. The whole thing has to be junked and replaced by authentic Catholicism, which means here authentic liturgy. The latest attempts at cleaning up the language of the Novus Ordo, laudable as it is, only shows how far it is from anything like a stable, established and sustainable liturgy. The whole thing, along with all its "options" for this and that, is a recipe for perpetual innovation and flux.

Anonymous said...

The trickiest part of your "conundrum" is your relationship with your husband and his family and parish. Proceed with fervent prayer, asking God to lead you and your husband together, then test the waters. Your ultimate goal should be to get your family into a solid parish with a core of really faithful Catholic and a good liturgy -- preferably TLM, but a good NO if that's the best you can find.

Arieh said...

Your relationship with your husband is the tricky part.

Leaving that aside, the faith of your children is primary. You may be spiritually mature enough to suffer through the mindless drivel that passes for liturgy in most parishes and not lose your faith, but what kind of spirituality will the average parish life foster in your children.

When I lived in Oregon my family could walk to the nearest Catholic church, but instead we drove 45 minutes to a parish that preached the true faith and worshipped as Catholics had for centuries.

Here in Ohio there isn't a TLM within reasonable driving distance, so we attend a Byzantine parish. The Ruthenian Rite didn't screw up their Divine Liturgy in the 60s so I know my kids won't be bored into apostasy.

Pray and discuss your desires with your husband. If the last 40 years is any indication, by the time your parish has "fixed" the liturgy (if it ever does) you will be in a nursing home. I don't believe in sticking it out, I believe in voting with my feet.

Anonymous said...

As a mother of young, impressionable children myself, I'll bet your biggest concern is that of instilling the faith into your children. My suggestion is to get your husband to agree to attend the TLM once a month, just because you like it, or whatever reason. Take your children to every traditional devotion you can outside of Sunday Mass. The beautiful traditions have a way of permeating the soul leaving you wanting more.

I know of one family that attends both the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine and their oldest asked one Sunday if they were going to "real Mass" (the Tridentine).

I don't think you have to break from your current parish, just fulfill your spiritual needs wherever you can. One of the best things about being Catholic is that you are welcome in every Catholic church. I am blessed to have five beautiful churches that I attend and each of them have devotions I love.

Pray fervertly for your husband and brother-in-law. We all need to remember to pray for priests as they've got the toughest job in the world.

Anonymous said...

You are in a very difficult situation but it might help to think about it fom your brother in laws perspective.
He probably has all sorts of people telling him what they would like to see in the parish.
You have already let him know where you stand and also what you are prepared to do. As his sister in law if he let you do all those things you suggested parishioners could get annoyed that you were running the parish and maybe refuse to co operate.
All you can do now is stand back and respect the fact that he is in charge.
Being a PP is very stressful and he needs all the support he can get.
You say he is trying to get Eucharistic adoration started. Why not volunteer for that and pray for him and your parish. Also you can teach your children reverence and respect for the Mass regardless of which one you attend.
I think the key thing at the moment is to pray a lot for him and don't try to organise him just give him positive loving support.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

In these comments I see a lot of handwringing over the poor brother-in-law priest. It appears to me that he has already made his choice. He will serve the bishop, who, like the bishop of my own diocese, appears to be a typical post-V2 middle manager. The young lady is deluding herself if she thinks that her attempts at gentle persuasion will make a difference. I would guess that the excuses that the priest is making to her are disingenuous. It would not be the first time a lay person has been fobbed off by a pastor.

There is definitely such a thing as proper subservience of priest to bishop. There is also such a thing as ambition, and priests are as susceptible to it as anyone. Both factors militate against this priest's parish ever becoming anything that the bishop does not want it to be.

There is also such a thing as proper subservience of wife to husband. In this case the husband seems to be a decent fellow, but perhaps a bit tone deaf spiritually. I'm sure he thinks it would be really cool to attend a parish where his brother is the pastor -- making his family the big cheese of the pew set. There is such a thing as status symbolism within a parish -- it is one effect of too much communitarianism. No one is immune to it. And about the proper spiritual setting for his kids?? Hey, that's my bro you're talking about!! What I'm getting at here is the futility of challenging the husband directly -- despite the fact that there seems to be justification for doing so.

There are also limits to subservience. If a bishop or a husband is causing spiritual harm within his respective "family", what should be done? Speaking up then becomes an obligation. Not many people are up to it, because it requires moral strength and conviction. Those elements have been in short supply within the post V2 church -- in this church people use "subservience" as a dodge to avoid facing the difficult issues that have arisen out of the Great Council.

Ma'am, you have a very difficult problem, and no one here is really qualified to offer much in the way of advice. I guess I would have to go with the person who suggested striking a bargain with your husband to attend one TLM a month, or perhaps every other week. Teach the children: if they want to go to a TLM, your husband will be hard put to deny them. Proceed by increments. It is possible that your brother-in-law, the bishop's man, may be transferred to a more challenging and prestigious assignment in the next few years, and that will put an end to the quandary.

Anonymous said...

The answer to your problem has a solution in several 'layers'

The first one, in regards to the super-natural means, and the use of the 3-P words (prayer, penance and patience !!)

The second one, in regards to the natural means

If the brother-in-law priest is overbooked and is not available, then have the new potentially available / willing priests to be friends of him

Then, try to plan an extra Mass, in an inconvenient hour

In this way, the brother-in-law will not inconvenience the other masses / parishioners

If there is enough people, traction, the newly added mass will be a success (based on quantities)

If there is no enough people, traction, then the newly mass might have to struggle a little bit over time in order to get momentum

The intent is not to have a riot, or a mutiny, or to have it, as Sinatra, 'my way'

The intent is to enrich the life of the parishioners .. but for this, you (and we all) need to go at their own pace

If we push it, then we will find resistance

By the way, the same principle applies to raising up kids, against the grain

Penance, prayer, patience, perseverance .. and smiles ... on the long term, .., win souls !!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, late answer here. And no offense intended, but folks who aren't in love with the old Mass cannot properly understand your predicament.

Attending the TLM once a month or so is a great idea, that is a balanced solution for the time being; do all holy days, etc, in the old rite as well, and extra visits whenever possible. I did this for a few years and now we attend the TLM exclusively. My husband now loves this Mass, it led to his conversion; my boys are altar servers, and know well and love this Mass, too.

You must pray hard for your husband, he will have a conversion to the TLM when God wants him too - for it is a virtual conversion when someone learns to love the old Mass. I speak from experience.

As far as the priest goes, the pressure on priests is tremendous, you must pray for him (for all priests always!). Your husband is probably the best person to influence his brother once your husband falls in love with the TLM, which will happen in due time with your and your children's prayers.

You may have to suffer for this, but it will be worth it. Never allow the situation to become ugly, everything in charity. Do it for your children's sake.

This was my situation so I understand and sympathize. I will pray for you.